|Homepage.||This page: A classic transporter once used to haul a Lola Mk2, a Jaguar, and an Allard special.|
Commer transporter.Regular visitors to OCC may have read the saga of the Dodge transporter restoration, an experience which should really have put me off acquiring more old vehicles for life. However, some 19 years after first stumbling across the Dodge, in 2014, the Commer described below was retrieved from its long-term home, a genuine "barn find", situated on a farm down a quiet lane in leafy Somerset.
First visit to the transporter, August 2014.For a couple of years the snapshot of the transporter remained in the back of my memory. In mid-2014 an enquiry via an intermediary revealed that many of the vehicles dotted about the farm were due to be scrapped. While the Commer Q2 wasn't in immediate danger of being scrapped, its future was far from certain so further enquiries followed. On 7th August 2014 a visit to Somerset was made, where I met the poster of the original photograph, and received a guided tour of the farm and, most interestingly, the Commer. Wedged in the corner of a stone-walled barn, with an old tractor and the crumbling remains of a Ford Corsair and Lancia Flavia Coupe for company, it was the perfect barn find.
|Clearly, it had been there a long time. The paint had faded from its original green to a dull muddy hue, and ivy clung onto its nearside coachwork and roof. Inside, stacks of magazines and general detritus filled the cab and rear load area, not unlike how the Dodge was back in 1995. The lefthand rear door had also fallen off, just as had that on its American brother years before.|
|Accessing the offside of the lorry would have been a squeeze, thanks to the Lancia parked alongside, had it not been for an obliging neighbour and his fork-lift truck. With the crumbling coupe hoiked out of the way, access to the ancient Commer was much improved. In its day, it must have looked very smart, in its dark green livery with white flashes down either side. Even like this, faded, dusty, and covered in green mould, it still had presence.|
|Inside the cab, were hints of its former life driving around the UK from venue to venue. The remains of a paddock pass clung to the windscreen, while hand-written notes on the back of an envelope from 1971 shed light on preparations for the Sphinx's final race. Elsewhere, the odd box of matches, an old fire extinguisher, and a Fairy Liquid washing-up bottle (price 6d) which was evidently used as a make-shift screen washing device. In the back, gaskets to suit the Jaguar engine of the Sphinx, a paddock pass from Prescott hillclimb 1964 (found with a clip-on crash helmet visor, by Stadium), and other bits and pieces were discovered. Apparently the family have boxes of old photographs going back to the 1960s, so I'm hopeful that pictures of Croot's racing activities - and the lorry - will turn up in due course.|
A brief history.The lorry was built in 1950. Originally powered by a sidevalve straight-six petrol engine, at some point it has been upgraded to a Commer/Humber OHV six-cylinder unit instead. Its history has still to be investigated fully. The bodywork rear of the bonnet is coachbuilt, with a mixture of steel and aluminium panels clothing an ash frame. I'm told that it may have been used to deliver ice cream to retailers. In about 1960, it was used by an amateur racing driver to transport his Lola Mk2 (originally thought to have been a Lotus, but since corrected) single-seater to races. His name was Norman Davis. To do this the lorry was fitted with a winch, the floor was raised, and a sturdy pair of ramps were built.
|In the mid-1960s ownership passed to fellow racer Brian Croot, and he used it to transport a Jaguar C-Type and, later, a very rakish-looking sportscar known as the Sphinx Allard (by this time Jaguar powered, above). More details regarding the cars it once carried will be added as new information comes to light. I'm very keen to find photographs of the cars and, if possible, paddock shots that feature the Commer in them. Croot continued racing until about 1971, his last race being at Crystal Palace, before he retired from racing, parking the Commer in the barn. All the well-known venues of the day were attended, these included Silverstone, Goodwood, Brands Hatch, Oulton Park, Prescott, Shelsley Walsh and many more besides.|
|The Sphinx was sold by the family and spent many years sat in a private French collection, before returning to the UK and is now, I believe, being restored back to race-ready condition. The un-dated photograph shown below gives a driver's-eye view down the car's distinctively-swoopy bonnet.|
|Although I've more than enough things to be getting on with, the Commer - like the Dodge many years earlier - was something that really appealed, and couldn't be passed by, despite the impracticalities that come with buying large vehicles like this. A deal was done, hands were shaken, and thoughts turned to how it could be moved from its long-term home.|
Collection day.With a holiday out of the way, plans for its collection began to come together. The job of moving it some 182 miles was posted onto a transport website, and a number of quotes from hauliers were accumulated. A local(ish) transport firm with a suitable 7.5 ton lorry was chosen, and the date of September 18th 2014 selected. Prior to collection, the Commer was moved out of its barn location into the yard outside the farmhouse, which I'm very grateful for. Perhaps surprisingly, it rolls quite well although it's a fair way from being a runner.
|An early start saw me in Somerset by 7.30am, an hour or so before the collection agent was due to arrive. This left me plenty of time to photograph the lorry in the fresh air, and also interrogate a nearby skip from which a number of old cans were retrieved that, ultimately, will be displayed inside the vehicle.|
|The haulier arrived on time, and the Commer was dragged towards its transporter, a long journey ahead northwards awaited.|
|Watching on, a similarly-dusty Austin Westminster, terminally-corroded but set to donate its engine to a racing Healey.|
|The lorry was loaded up, and briefly resorted to being a transporter again - the collection driver bought a project Suzuki motorcycle which he spotted in a barn, and loaded it inside the back of the Commer for the trip back. The ravaged paintwork on the side of the Commer, thanks to years of being covered in ivy, is clear to see. Also in view is the side access door, fitted to the nearside only. The small hole just ahead of the door is where the winder for the floor-mounted winch is inserted.|
|Everything loaded, the leisurely drive home behind the transporter began.|
Back home.The original plan had been to store it temporarily at a friend's garage. However it became apparent that it'd fit into our driveway ok, so it was brought directly to our place instead, much to my wife's (well-concealed) glee. Property values in the area will never be the same again.
|The next couple of days were spent cleaning off the grime, cobwebs and verdigris from the bodywork, and sweeping out the interior. Scrubbing at the paintwork began to reveal a hint of the original green, for so long hidden by the oxidised, muddy-brown top layer of paint that affected the nearside coachwork in particular. The driver and passenger compartment responded well to the initial attentions of sponge and water, note the improvised screen-wash system.|
|The truck arrived home on a Thursday, over the following weekend I decided to move it a little. As it's a non-runner, this required the use of both my wife's small 4x4 and our trusty "grey Fergy" tractor. The hefty tow rope was found in the back of the Commer, so it seemed appropriate to use it in this job.|
|The Commer is now a little cleaner, and the work required is becoming apparent. Not a small job by any means, but early impressions are that it won't be the huge task that the Dodge became. I'm hoping that the spares situation for it will also be a little easier to deal with. Can anyone spare me a pair of badges to fit on the bonnet, either side? Australia seems to be a good hunting ground for old Commers, so I expect to find a few handy parts over there in time.|
|Condition-wise, it's not too bad. The front wings are a bit frilly at the edges, as are several of the flat rear side panels. The back end of the bodywork suffered the most, through being exposed to the weather and by being loaded with old carpets and rags that soon became damp, and remained that way. Due to this, the rear 3-4ft of the wooden flooring will need replacing, while the rear corners of the body, the back valance, and both back doors, will need replacement. Fortunately their shape and construction aren't particularly complex, so I'm not too worried about that. The centre of the roof comprises wooden slats, over which canvas was stretched. The material has long-since disappeared - another reason for the floor rotting away at the back - but handily the wood remains in good order. In fact, despite the bodywork being ash-framed throughout, I think probably 90% or more of it will be usable.|
|The mechanical condition isn't known, although the engine does turn over, and I'm told it last ran maybe 15-20 years ago.|
|The plan right now is to preserve the Commer "as is" for the timebeing, while I get on with a few other projects I'm already working on. In the meantime leads for finding service items will be looked into, and its history will be researched in depth. I would like to get it running though, if only to make moving it a little more straightforward. Plans for building a shelter, in which to accommodate it properly, are now in hand. The driveway has already been extended by 30ft to accommodate it. Unusually, for something stored away for so long, the lorry remains registered with DVLA on its correct registration - KEL 488.|
|The headlamps are an interesting feature, and aren't something I noticed until it was back home. They're not the usual 7-inch Lucas 700 units, but "Le Mans 24" headlights as fitted in period to racing sportscars such as the D-Type Jaguar, and many of the BMC Works' cars. Quite rare by all accounts, although reproductions are being made.|
|The paddock pass shown below, for a race meeting held at the Thruxton racing circuit in 1968, was found inside the cab.|
|If anyone has photographs of this vehicle in service, I'd very much like to hear from you. Beneath the green paint are signs of a bright pale blue finish, presumably from its earlier role as a delivery van. Do any other Commers with this style of coachwork survive? There's a small plate on the bulkhead with a body number on it, and the company name BMB Ltd. It has also been suggested that it was sold - and perhaps bodied by - Lee Brothers/Lee Motors of Bournemouth, although now I think it may have passed through their hands on the secondhand market, as it definitely was not sold by them new (of which more anon).|
Lucky find.Quite a few old tins and other items relating to the Commer's working life in the 1960s, were found inside it. Apart from the odd gasket though, nothing of the old racer it once carried was discovered. This has now been rectified, thanks to a lucky find on eBay. I managed to buy, via a third party, a set of wheels on which the Sphinx Allard raced. They were bought from the family, as part of their tidy-up of parts they no longer need, by someone who then advertised them for auction. They didn't garner much interest. I was outbid, but it turned out afterwards that the wheels were still available (...), so a deal was done to secure them. A quick chat with the Croots confirmed their origin.
|Quotes for collection received from a number of couriers weren't all that competitive, so a trip down to Bridgwater (again) was required. 380 miles later, the wheels were re-united with the Commer in which they once travelled. They're 15" in diameter, while Allard JRs - on which the Sphinx is based - tended to run on 16". I have a photo of the car in the 1960s with smaller diameter wheels fitted, perhaps fitted to lower the gearing for hillclimb events.|
|Two wheels, presumably the fronts, have road tyres fitted to them, while the beefier rears are both shod with 6.00 L 15 Dunlop Racing CR48 tyres. The CR48 (R6) was first used in 1962.|
|While to most they're just a fairly useless and rusty set of old wheels, as items of memorabilia to store - and ultimately display with - the old transporter, they're a very welcome find. Are there any other items out there, relating to the Sphinx Allard?|
|I'd like to thanks the Croots, Max in particular, for enabling the purchase and collection of the old girl to take place without a hitch. Hopefully one day it'll return to some of its old motor racing haunts, perhaps with the Dodge for company. The two are shown below, nose to nose, transporters built in 1940 (Dodge) and 1950 (Commer) respectively.|
More research.The Commer in 1950, supplied by Tice & Son of Bournemouth.
Investigations into the early history of the van established not only the supplying dealership, but also the firm that bought it. The biggest surprise though was tracking down a photo of the exact same vehicle, as it looked, new, back in 1950.
Purchase paperwork from 1963.|
Original purchase papers for when Norman Davis and Brian Croot bought the Commer from Tice & Son, in 1963.
|Old Classic Car (C) R. Jones 2020. Content not to be reproduced elsewhere.|
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